Blockbuster returns to Detroit as a free rental box

Darlene A. White
Special to The Detroit News

Before Netflix and Hulu, it was Blockbuster. 

Local filmmaker Jim Toscano is bringing that piece of nostalgia back to Detroit in his own special way.

Toscano, 42, of Sterling Heights is the franchise owner of Michigan's first Free Blockbuster Box. It's located on Riopelle Street in Detroit's Eastern Market and is one of only about 16 in the country. 

The concept of the free Blockbuster box was created in 2019 by Brian Morrison in Los Angeles. As of today, there is only one actual Blockbuster video store remaining in Bend, Oregon. 

Jim Toscano has installed a Blockbuster Box that allows people to share movies for free.

Toscano says he came up with the idea to bring a free Blockbuster box to Detroit while out in Philadelphia. 

“I found an old newspaper box in a dilapidated shopping center,” he explained. “It actually had a can of beer in the inside when I went to check it out. I resurrected it and turned it into the Blockbuster box.”

Toscano says he assumed that creating the box would only take a day, but it required more time than he imagined. 

“The box actually needed a lot of work,” he laughed. “We had to sand down the old stickers, paint, add new Plexiglas, along with some stenciling.”

Blockbuster Detroit box

The idea of the Blockbuster box is to mimic the old video store, but with a twist.  

The rules for the free Blockbuster box are simple. It works like a little library.  

"Take a book, leave a book," Toscano said. "This is a take a film, leave a film."

Everyone is free to take from it or donate. The free movie box has VHS tapes, DVDs, and laserdiscs. 

"Someone put in a mixtape earlier so there's even some audio going on in there," he said laughing.

There are benefits to the free movie box: no pesky late fees and you don’t have to rewind to the movie. 

Toscano says the movie box has filled the void of not being able to go to a video store anymore.  

“People absolutely love the movie box,” he expressed.” People actually hang around the box and discuss movies with each other. It’s like the old video store days.”

It's also an opportunity for local filmmakers to promote their work, said Toscano, who directed the 2019 boxing documentary "The Pretender" and "Detroit Designs the World," a short film that feature sites from the list of National Registered Historic Places that include Cranbrook, the Highland Park Ford Plant, and the GM Tech Center. He also co-directed "Detroit Jazz City" with Danny Gianinio, which spotlights Detroit's role in jazz.

“I would be cool to see B and C movies inside the box,” he said. “Also, independent films would be great to see inside. This box can be a new stream for independent film makers to get the support that they need to market their movie.”

Detroit will not be the only place for the free Blockbuster box. Toscano plans to place a box in Hamtramck in the near future.

Toscano said he’s glad to see that the free Blockbuster movie box is bringing joy to the community.

“You can really get to know a person by the movies that they watch, so this is a great way to get to know your neighbors,” he said. “Everyone is really excited about the movie box. I thought it would bring a little buzz, but it exceeded expectations.”